CHENNAI: In a first, the Union Environment Ministry has returned the new hydrocarbon project proposed by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) in the Cauvery delta region, which the State government has notified as Protected Special Agriculture Zone (PSAZ). ONGC had proposed to drill 20 onshore hydrocarbon wells for production of oil and gas in Nagapattinam, Cuddalore and Karaikal. The proposal was submitted to the Ministry in September last year seeking Terms of Reference (ToR) to conduct Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).
Since then, the project was returned thrice for shortcomings. The latest on February 15 was reportedly owing to PSAZ notification. Under the gazette notification, the State government has prohibited exploration, drilling and extraction of oil and natural gas, and other hydrocarbons in Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and select blocks in Cuddalore and Pudukkottai. As per the ONGC project documents, 15 out of total 20 wells are proposed to be dug-up in Nagapattinam and one well in Kattumannakoil block in Cuddalore, which is protected under PSAZ notification. In the application, ONGC claimed that the demand for petroleum products was increasing rapidly and hence, there was an urgent need to boost exploration efforts to reduce imports from Gulf countries.
Shambu Kallolikar, principal secretary, Environment and Forests Department, told Express that ONGC and other companies proposing new hydrocarbon projects in Tamil Nadu have to rework their ventures around PSAZ notification. “The current and ongoing oil business will not be disturbed in the notified area, but no new hydrocarbon project will be allowed,” he said. “The Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, has also recognised our concerns and assured us that no fresh block allotments will be made without the consent of the State government.” M Giridhar, Chief General Manager (Geology) of Block-1 Cauvery Basin, ONGC, who submitted the application to the Environment Ministry was not available to comment.
The fragile Cauvery basin had been witnessing a spurt in exploration and production activities in recent past with the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas steering a plethora of reforms. Last year alone, proposals for drilling 489 hydrocarbon wells in Tamil Nadu were made to the Environment Ministry, of which ONGC accounts for 215 wells, and Cairn Oil and Gas for 274 wells.
The Block, where the project is proposed, was awarded to ONGC by the Government of India for hydrocarbon exploration for a period of six years with extension of 2 years under HELP/OALP Bid Round- III.
The Block covers an area of 459.83 sq km in onshore out of which 386.53 sq km in Tamil Nadu (14.74 sq km in Cuddalore and 371.79 sq km in Nagapattinam) and 73.30 sq km in Karaikal region of Puducherry